Yesterday, it was rumored that Harper’s magazine would be publishing a piece by writer Katie Roiphe in its March issue which would reveal the identity of the creator of the infamous Shitty Media Men list.
The list, a crowd-sourced document that circulated in October, was meant as a private resource for women to warn other women in the media of predatory men, but it quickly leaked to the public, setting off a firestorm of debate.
When the rumors began circulating that Harper’s would name the list’s creator, many people, including me, urged the magazine to reconsider. (The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg pointed out that there are reasons why the creator’s identity could be newsworthy, such as if they were actually an alt-right troll. If that’s the case, then Harper’s should make it. Instead, it has created confusion.)
Today, The New York Times published a piece confirming that Roiphe and Harper’s would not be publishing the woman’s name. “I am not ‘outing’ anyone. I have to say it’s a little disturbing that anyone besides Trump views Twitter as a reliable news source,” Roiphe told the Times. The article also noted that “In a later interview, Ms. Roiphe said that she herself did not know the identity of the person who started the list and added, ‘I would never put in the creator of the list if they didn’t want to be named.’”
However, the Times also reported the existence of this email exchange, which seems to directly contradict that claim:
An email exchange obtained by The New York Times shows that, during the editing process, a Harper’s fact checker contacted a person said to be a creator of the list and said the article identified her as someone widely believed to be one of the people behind it.
Harper’s said that the fact-checking email exchange did not mean the name was ever meant to be included in the final version. “Fact-checking is part of reporting,” Ms. Melucci said.
Ms. Roiphe added, “I would not have mentioned it without her approval. I want to be clear on that.”
The details here can’t all be true. Roiphe claims she did not know the identity of the list’s creator and that she would not have included that person’s name without permission, but the email obtained by the Times shows that “a Harper’s fact checker contacted a person said to be a creator of the list and said the article identified her as someone widely believed to be one of the people behind it.”
Let’s read that again: “the article identified her as someone widely believed to be one of the people behind it.”
So what happened here? Either the article identified the woman or it didn’t. Did the fact checker have information about the creator of the list that Roiphe did not? I don’t know the editing process at Harper’s (“we’re not going to tell the steps of the editing process,” a Harper’s spokesperson told the Times) but having been a fact checker at a print magazine myself, it would be unusual (though not impossible) for a fact checker to reach out to the creator of the list before Roiphe included it in a close-to-final draft.
The line stood out to several observers.
The Times also reported that journalist Nicole Cliffe, who offered on Twitter to pay writers who pulled their stories from the issue in protest, “had pledged to pay more than $19,000 to reporters who had pulled their stories from Harper’s, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.” (Cliffe clarified on Twitter that she had paid them, rather than merely pledged to pay them.) But the Times also wrote that “Ms. Melucci, the Harper’s spokeswoman, said she had no knowledge of writers pulling stories from the magazine.”
To be clear, as long as Roiphe’s piece does not include the identity of the list’s creator, there is no reason why her article should not be published—at least in the ethical sense. But the Times piece merely raises more questions than it answers.
Update, 10:46 PM: On Wednesday night, writer Moira Donegan revealed herself as the woman behind the Shitty Media Men list in an article for The Cut.
In the piece, Donegan claims that Roiphe and Harper’s were, in fact, preparing to use her name in connection with the list (emphasis mine):
This escalated when I learned Katie Roiphe would be publishing my name in a forthcoming piece in Harper’s magazine. In early December, Roiphe had emailed me to ask if I wanted to comment for a Harper’s story she was writing on the “feminist moment.” She did not say that she knew I had created the spreadsheet. I declined and heard nothing more from Roiphe or Harper’s until I received an email from a fact checker with questions about Roiphe’s piece. “Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media List,” the fact checker wrote. “Were you involved in creating the list? If not, how would you respond to this allegation?” The next day, a controversy ensued on Twitter after Roiphe’s intention to reveal my identity was made public. People who opposed the decision by Harper’s speculated about what would happen to me as a result of being identified. They feared that I would be threatened, stalked, raped, or killed. The outrage made it seem inevitable that my identity would be exposed even before the Roiphe piece ran. All of this was terrifying. I still don’t know what kind of future awaits me now that I’ve stopped hiding.
The passage shows how carefully Roiphe has worded her responses. She claimed to the Times that she was “not ‘outing’ anyone” and that she did not know the identity of the person behind the list—both of which could be technically true, since she was apparently preparing to avoid definitively saying that Donegan was behind the list. However, it seems clear that Donegan’s name was intended to appear in the article.